Wednesday, November 9, 2011

'Malcom X - A Life of Reinvention' Review

A Man for Many Seasons
by Darryl Lorenzo Wellington
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention
by Manning Marable
Viking Adult, 2001, 608 pp.

Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention hit the book stands last spring with considerable buzz, given the allure that accompanied Malcolm X’s life story, as well as the drama of Marable’s personal tragedy. Marable died of complications resulting from pneumonia at age sixty a few days before the publication of his magnum opus. His sudden demise heightened the impression that his Malcolm—the product of ten years of work— would be definitive.

The man euphemistically known as “the Brother X” has become iconic. He has been the subject of a major Hollywood biopic. But his legacy remains contested. Critics and admirers alike pick and choose from among the images of Malcolm X. There is the majestic freedom fighter, admired by Spike Lee and Barack Obama. There is the Brother X associated with parochial-minded anti- Americanism; the race-baiting Malcolm X recently denounced by Stanley Crouch as “a maskmaker from his days as a hustler to the moment at which he was shot to death”; Malcolm the global humanitarian, the symbol of world brotherhood; Malcolm the sectarian, the divisive influence. There is the religious Malcolm, potentially the new face of Black Islamic America.

But there is another Malcolm, the male chauvinist, who bragged in his autobiography of never having trusted a woman, and whose image reified ugly strains of Islamic sexism, as well as its capacity for radical violence. Marable notes, “An al-Qaeda video released following the election of Barack Obama described the president as a ‘race traitor’ and ‘hypocrite’ when compared to Malcolm X.”

Martin Luther King’s career fits easily into the mold of a martyred civil rights hero. He promoted social integrationism and was murdered by a white racist. For most of his public life, Malcolm X belittled social integrationism and was murdered by other blacks in a sectarian feud. Malcolm X’s break with the Nation of Islam defined the final period of his career. But after he put aside the NOI’s half-baked philosophy of “white devils” he still extolled the power behind a collective racial identity. He ultimately “changed,” but to what? There is not a clear version of what the final Malcolm X represented.

Malcolm’s legacy has been interpreted to be culturally black nationalist or capitalist (in the Marcus Garvey tradition of black entrepreneurship) or socialist. His last phase coincided with the period of anticolonialist socialist revolutions in Africa. He identified strongly with Pan-Africanism. But Pan-Africanism has come and gone; where does this leave Malcolm X in history?

A Life of Reinvention is heavy on particulars, or minutiae—a narrative retelling by a zealous researcher. Isn’t this a biographer’s task? Yes, and yet for all that Marable accomplishes, a certain disappointment haunts the reader. A Life of Reinvention may fill in certain blanks and provide salacious details (a normative practice in this day and age of tell-all biographies); it may “humanize” Malcolm X, if you will, but its struggle with the Brother X’s political legacy is perfunctory, while it could have been Olympian.

The primary source behind the multiple constructions of Malcolm X’s legacy is The Autobiography of Malcolm X, compiled over a two-year period from interviews conducted with journalist Alex Haley. The Autobiography has sold millions, its popularity driven by the charismatic power of Malcolm X’s story of sin and redemption, and his conversion from a life of crime to one of political and religious commitment. Haley’s narrative has made Malcolm X hip, threatening, or cool, and promulgated many of the alternative Malcolms. Marable clearly has a bone to pick with The Autobiography, averring that “Malcolm X had no opportunity to revise major elements of what would become known as his political testament.” Furthermore, “A deeper reading [of The Autobiography of Malcolm X] also reveals numerous inconsistencies in names, dates, and facts. [After years of teaching the Autobiography] I was fascinated. How much it true, and how much hasn’t been told?” ponders Marable. But both books relate basically the same story.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

New Art - Faces of Color Series

As many of you may know by now, I tend to paint in spurts and change my style of art and ideas about as often as I change my underwear. Well, here's another pair to try on. These next few images that I will be delivering over the coming weeks were actually inspired by my good friend Tyrone Geter. Tyrone is a master with charcoal and often uses them on dark backgrounds. I love the effect he was achieving but charcoal is a medium I have zero love and tolerance for - way too messy for me to fool with. I decided to do my version of the charcoal look with oil which I call 'charcoil'. (Use that and I will sue!) Each of the images will be on a different background color to mimic the various color papers that charcoal is often used on. 

I recently was working on the Plantashun series that included some realistic images of actual slaves. I loved the look of despair and strength on the faces and wanted to continue with them. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a lot of detail out of the faces in many of the century old photos, so I decided to start using live models. The lady below is actually my long time neighbor, Ms. Margaret Sass. I love her face and asked if I could take her picture months ago, but didn't know what to do with the image afterwards and stored it away. When this idea came to me I knew she was the perfect start. The next image is that of another neighbor who lives across the street. I'll have that one ready sometime next week.